For an introduction to this project please see this post.
Here's a string of ideas I aim to draw on to create discourse for thinking about ourselves as having evolved:
- There's nothing in the universe except:
- matter acted on by physics
- whatever's involved in evolution and life.
- To initial observation, what's makes evolution most different from matter is, it's creative. Non-living matter can't generate anything like the succession of species of living creatures we observe.
- Of the three possibilities I see for being the most plausible agent of evolution:
- the material environment--it's been around long enough, but lacks life's creativity.
- individual living creatures--can be creative, but short-lived.
- the genome
I select the genome. It's existed since life began, and it could share life's creativity.
- What most needs to be accounted for is how intelligence evolves. I mean initially intelligence in the sense of highly complex "patterns of connection," eg coordination among all the muscles involved in the body of a dancer performing a series of dance steps, and brains. (In this account, adaptation is a mere by-product of increasing intelligence.)
- We can be creative, generate genuine novelty. This makes us like evolution. Of the two of us, evolution came along first. I therefore assume we get our creativity from being evolved. We'll not get it from matter, matter isn't creative as we are.
- My capability to be creative I experience as having free will. Free will therefore does not mean being free of physical determinism, it means being free to be creative as evolution shows itself to be. This is a limited degree of freedom. No more paradox, "Are we free, or determined."
- Other mental capabilities I want to account for, besides creativity and consciousness of creativity (free will), are thinking and consciousness. I am going to make a leap here, and propose that I get those by virtue of evolution too--I have nowhere else to imagine getting them from, and I'm already getting my creativity and free will from there.
- When we think, eg remember something, we make changes to brain cells. When the genome "thinks" I assume it must make changes to its brain, the genes it consists of. Since these are what define species I arrive at the formula, "thinking equals evolving."
- As a metaphor for "mind" I propose to adopt a performance space, a stage or an arena.
- Species I imagine as thoughts in a prop cupboard from which they are brought out occasionally to evolve on the main stage--that's the Genie recalling them and thinking new thoughts about them.
- If we can think, that may involve a process of evolving. I suppose, when the genome thought us up, it made us so thoughts could evolve in our "minds," a metaphoric "stage" associated with each conscious self.
- By association with us having a self supported by a brain, I propose the genome has a "self" I will call "Genie." The Genie evolved to be intelligent, conscious and creative.
- The main "story" of evolution involves the genome evolving to develop Genie, intelligent, creative, able to think, and conscious (or its equivalent in genome terms). Merely by thinking it has brought new species into existence. The fossil record is in effect a journal the Genie's kept of its thoughts. We are merely phenotypes corresponding to the Genie's thoughts.
- But we are exceptional in nature, through the Genie embedding in us an extra share of its own consciousness and creativity, and a heightened capability for evolving thoughts within our minds.
- That made us exceptional in so far as thoughts evolve in our minds in fractions of a second instead of the eons it takes for species of living creatures.
- Ideas made possible by having new discourse: In the course of human evolution we've gained new capabilities, eg speech, writing, agriculture, civilization. Through the study of evolution we might discern new mental powers in its processes, that we could draw down into our own "minds." This is one potential benefit of a discourse based on thinking of the genome being the primary agent of evolution.
- Another ideas: All at the same time, in a few million years, humans were given control of fire, capacity for speech, fine manual dexterity, a greatly enlarged brain, capabilities such as arts and sciences we could develop to create civilization, and capability for creating alphabetic writing. This looks like pre-adaptation. We can use this discourse to ask ourselves what we may have been pre-adapted for. Whatever we've been pre-adapted for we're likely to experience as our "meaning in life."
I've arrived at these ideas over a couple of decades writing books and novels on the subject. They originate in the course of voluminous writing. I measure my progress by how much I can compress them down. The list above represents my current stage, being able to compress them down to a dozen and a half points. Once I'm content with them, I expect to expand them into a book. An early draft of this book, from which this list was abstracted, can be downloaded here (pdf).